‘He’s their mother’: Psychoanalyst explains why Trump’s supporters are like children of an abused parent
President Donald Trump looked into the faces of coal miners and lied about bringing their jobs back. His promise to stop the opioid crisis has turned into proposed cuts to funding for rehab and methadone clinics. Instead of giving an extra bit of help to rural America, Trump’s budget proposes massive cuts to the Department of Agriculture and guts programs for rural families. Trump’s promise to help working families has turned into a tax cut for corporations and the one percent. Yet, somehow, Trump’s supports remain steadfast in their belief that he will fight for them.
Reporter Amanda Marcotte sat down with psychoanalyst Dr. Justin Frank to better understand why Trump supporters continue to support the president, even as he’s promoting policies that hurt them.
“The people who were Trump supporters were hungry,” Frank began. “When they started out they were hungry for something different, they were hungry for change, they were hungry and they needed something. And Trump seemed to provide them with that. And once you provide that for someone they are going to stay loyal to you regardless of what you do after that, unless you really turn your back on them.”
The “Obama on the Couch” author described it as being similar to children of an abused parent or a child who defends a parent because Trump was able to connect with them in a very deep and personal way. Many have had parents that are more focused on themselves, their lives, their work “and there are a lot of ways in which a child can feel injured,” he said. “They’ve focused their injury on the Washington elite, on Hillary [Clinton], on the people inside the Beltway, who have really not paid attention to them in the last 30 to 40 years.”
Frank explained that as a result of Trump’s own injuries as a child he was able to connect to them. “Once that connection is made, it’s very hard to break,” Frank said.
CNN has spent many hours with Trump supporters to uncover what they were thinking then and what they think now. Consistently they try to justify their passion for Trump instead of talking about policies. Frank explained it’s like trying to justify why a person loves their mother. The reality is that they’ve made their choice and if the opposition is able to poke holes in their justifications, they simply return to it being their choice.
“People don’t like to admit that they were wrong and Trump has set a great example for that because he’s never admitted that he’s made a mistake,” Frank continued. “That’s why I don’t think evidence matters.”
Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber authored “The Enigma of Reason” describing the ways in which people become more and more strident in their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary.
“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber wrote, according to The New Yorker. Habits in people’s minds might seem strange or ridiculous from an “intellectual” point of view while appearing calculating from “interactionist” perspectives.
Yale professor Dan Kahan calls the human ability to distinguish real from fake “identity-protective cognition.” He explained that humans intuitively reject facts that contradict personal values. This is how “fake news” is able to take root in the mind of Trump supporters.
Frank and Marcotte viewed a recent CNN video with a group of Trump supporters discussing former FBI James Comey’s testimony. The majority of them refused to believe Trump lied. Frank said this is because they don’t care whether Trump is a liar or not.
“Then people have massive rationalizations that will justify whatever it is they believe and what they are believing is that he is — he’s their mother,” Frank continued. “They’re fused with him. “My mother would never lie to me. How would she do that?”
Frank urged people not to argue using evidence and facts with someone who is already committed to loyalty to Trump. “That preconception becomes a fact and there’s no way to argue with them,” he said. “It’s not really about facts. Facts do not work. Maybe you could say, ‘I love you more than he does’ or ‘I wish you loved yourself as much as he loves you.'”